Archive for November 17, 2022

Kenji Yano: Kalimba Plays Okinawan Songs

November 17, 2022

Kenji Yano is from Osaka but has long been resident in Okinawa where he has been active as both musician and producer. His name has already popped up a few times on this blog. He was a guitarist in 1980s band Rokuningumi and their very interesting mix of Asian styles was finally made available on CD a couple of years ago.

Yano has subsequently led various projects including Surf Champlers (known for their recording of the James Bond theme) and Sanshin Café Orchestra. His album Sanshin Island Café was reviewed here in 2016.

On this new solo album, he offers instrumental versions of 13 Okinawan songs played exclusively on the kalimba, an African instrument also known as mbira or thumb piano. Four different kalimbas are used for the recordings – two were made in Japan, one is from China, and the other from South Africa.

The songs chosen are all very well-known to those familiar with Okinawa and its music. Some of them are traditional while others are modern shimauta. They include ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’, ‘Asadoya Yunta’ and ‘Akata Sundunchi’ as well as covers of Begin’s ‘Nada Sousou’, The Boom’s ‘Shimauta’, Shoukichi Kina’s ‘Hana’, and ‘Bashoufu’ the popular composition by Tsuneo Fukuhara who died just a few weeks ago.

The liveliest track is another Kina song, ‘Haisai Ojisan’, but in general this is a very laidback and relaxing listen – hence its subtitle: ‘Relax to the Magic of Okinawa’, also used for a previous Yano album on which he played sanshin versions of Okinawan classics.

I don’t care for the term ‘healing’ (as regular readers will know), and it is overused in promoting tourism and beach holidays around the Ryukyu islands. However, this would not be too far off the mark when describing the album. It will doubtless appeal to fans of the kalimba which is played here with great expertise but may also find a welcome place as background music in island cafes.

Kalimba Plays Okinawan Songs is released on CD by Qwotchee Records.